By now, pretty much everyone is aware that plastic waste is a big problem, especially for our oceans and the creatures that live in and around them. Even with recent efforts to develop more recycling programs and create greener and more biodegradable materials, it’s not nearly enough to combat the issue, and we’re all responsible for the individual impacts we make on our environment, particularly where plastic is concerned.
While 3D printing offers several environmental benefits compared to other forms of manufacturing, it’s still largely a plastic-based technology, especially consumer-level 3D printing, and care needs to be taken to ensure that we’re not adding to the planet’s plastic waste problem with our 3D printing activities. While PLA is technically a biodegradable material, it’s not quite as environmentally friendly as many manufacturers say it is. It’ll biodegrade, sure – in several hundred years, unless it’s sent to a commercial composting facility, where very specific conditions and temperatures will enable it to break down over several months.
While certain filaments are being made from biologically based materials such as algae, for example, or even coffee, the majority are still very much standard plastics, and – depending on where you live – industrial composting facilities aren’t always easy to access. It may be our responsibility as individuals to mitigate our impact on the environment, but 3D printing companies can help. A California startup called Advanced Life Technologies (ALT) LLC has made it their mission to not only provide a range of 3D printing services, but to do it sustainably – and help others to make sustainable choices as well.
The Santa Barbara-based service bureau was formed in 2010, and company CEO Dr. Jonathan Barton is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara’s materials science program. With plenty of experience in additive manufacturing as well as microfabrication and nanofabrication, Dr. Barton is an expert in materials development, and has used that expertise to turn ALT LLC into something of a materials database as well as a printing service. Users can visit the company’s materials page to learn about the properties and uses of a wide range of materials, and while their inventory is constantly changing, they will order specific materials on-demand at customers’ requests.
ALT LLC emphasizes the use of sustainable materials, and recently they developed their processing technology to turn plastic waste, such as bottles and packaging material, into PLA, PP, PET and other recycled filaments. They also offer ABS made from recycled automobile components. While their recycled filament isn’t on the market, they offer it gladly as a material option for requested prints.
“ALT’s process is compatible with a variety of plastics that can be colored or made into composites to suit a wide range of applications from cell phone cases to drones,” the company states. “The technology will enable reusing of the material multiple times. The company hopes that this technology will help support the community by enabling local manufacturing and using locally sourced materials, which significantly reduces cost as well as fuel for transportation and greenhouse gas emissions.”
If you have a project that you’d like printed with recycled and recyclable material (or any material – ALT offers a wide range of options including specialty materials), you can contact ALT for a quote here. The company will work closely with customers, both individuals and businesses, to develop solutions for complex projects if necessary, and have a strong track record performing research and development for clients including makers, architects, industrial designers and more.
ALT also has a medical division engaged in medical 3D printing and bioprinting research and development, and have provided services including the creation of surgical models and sensors for medical equipment. While there are many 3D printing service bureaus out there, Advanced Life Technologies is one of the more socially responsible ones that I’ve heard about, and I look forward to seeing the good they do in the future. Discuss in the ALT forum at 3DPB.com.